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February 4 2016

IRS Tax Season Kicks Off with Website Glitches

Patrice J. Lee

Yesterday, technology failures at the IRS caused tax processing systems to go offline and the agency has stopped accepting electronically filed tax returns.

In a statement, the agency said it was still assessing how wide the scope of the problem is and how long it will take for online filing to get back up and running. They don’t predict that there will be major disruptions to refunds this year, but they can’t say for certain.

Taxpayers can continue to send electronic returns through companies that help facilitate e-filing, but they can only hold onto those applications until IRS systems are back up and running.

USA Today reports:

"The IRS is still assessing the scope of the outage," the agency said. "At this time, the IRS does not anticipate major refund disruptions; we continue to expect that nine out of 10 taxpayers will receive their refunds within 21 days."

The IRS.gov website remains available, but "Where's My Refund" and other services are not working.

Some systems will be out of service at least until Thursday, the agency said. "The IRS is currently in the process of making repairs and working to restore normal operations as soon as possible," the IRS said.

We can’t help but think this is just the start to potential woes this IRS season.

Local law enforcement and advocates representing the elderly and communities of color have been warning residents in cities and counties across the country about a new IRS scam. Scammers have been calling people claiming they owe money or are not in good standing with the IRS. In a Letter to the Editor of The Jersey Journal for example, an AARP representative notes “The IRS will NOT communicate with you by phone. If you receive a call from someone purporting to be from the IRS or the US Treasury, regardless of what appears on your caller ID, give them no identifying information and insist that they send everything to you in writing.”

The IRS sends mail, they don’t make personal calls. That is especially true now that IRS says they are scaling back their customer service operations to discourage people from calling with questions are we reported recently. An IRS plan would create online accounts for 150 million individual taxpayers and 11 million businesses to field questions and provide services. Those accounts don’t mean much if they don’t work.

Not only is the IRS discouraging taxpayers from calling, the head of the IRS revealed that less than 40 percent of callers to the IRS actually received assistance. Their phone system used “courtesy disconnects” to hang up 5 million calls because the wait time would’ve been too long.

Online filing is an important feature that Americans actually like. It reduces the likelihood of errors and reduces the processing time that used to take months, but now is down to days. It also opens the door to the biggest headache of all that millions of Americans face during tax season: hackers stealing their identities and filing false tax returns in their names. Last year, we learned that the over 300,000 victims had their personal information stolen and past returns accessed to file fraudulent returns.

IRS leadership promised changes, but the proof is in the pudding.

If this week’s tech failures are early indications, it will not be a happy tax filing season. Then again, is filing our taxes and calculating just how much Uncle Sam yanks from our pockets each year ever a pleasant season?

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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